Anne works in a youth centre. For the past few weeks, she has been sensing heavy emotions from some of the young people in her group, but she is having a hard time getting them to express what they are feeling. She decides to explore a new approach to foster openness and dialogue by organizing an artistic activity.
As soon as she arrives in the room, Anne sets up two large tables in the middle of it and places all sorts of creative materials on them: large white sheets, wooden pencils, paintbrushes, paints, sponges, coloured stickers, and more.
It is 4:30 p.m. when the young people in her group arrive from high school. Intrigued by the art supplies, some sneak a peek at what’s available before going to sit on the sofas, while others sit right down at the tables and start to draw.
Anne waits a few more minutes for the whole group to show up before inviting the ones who are further away to sit down at the large tables.
“What I want to suggest today is an artistic activity to reconnect with ourselves and others. We all experience emotions and learning to name them means learning to tame them. So, we are going to draw our emotional portrait.”
Sami responds with: “I can’t draw. It’s not my thing!”
Anne says to him: “You don’t need to be an artist. We’re not here to judge, and I’m not an artist either! The idea is to get creative and express yourself however you want. Have fun with colours, textures, and shapes, and share how you are feeling.”
The teens are hesitant at first. So Anne dives in and draws a large, thick blue line through the middle of her sheet. After a few uncertain looks and exchanges of shy smiles, the teens gradually follow suit and start drawing colourful shapes.
In a warm, lighthearted atmosphere, everyone ends up creating a personal work that they have fun commenting on. Anne fuels the discussions and ends the activity by saying with a smile: “Well, I’m impressed with your creativity! It was fun to see you connect like that!”
Putting what we are feeling into words isn’t always easy, and yet it is an important protective factor in mental health.1
Art is an alternative approach to doing that. Drawing, painting, dancing, collage, writing… regardless of the medium, artistic expression is a good way to externalize our emotions, express something difficult, or open up a dialogue. Studies show that regularly practicing an artistic activity, alone or in a group, helps reduce stress and increase resiliency.2 And you don’t need to be an artist to do it!
The Canadian Research Institute on Humanitarian Crises and Aid also recently studied the potential benefits of artistic activities during a pandemic and showed that art offers people psychological well-being during crises.3 In fact, by “engaging emotional, perceptual, and creative faculties, arts and culture enable a reflexive and liberating process in situations of adversity,4 fostering better management of mental health.
Try it out during a virtual art workshop led by an art therapy professional! Grab your paper, paints, and paintbrushes, let your imagination run wild and express yourself freely during an art workshop on stress management, offered by the CMHA Montreal branch.
Join us Thursday, November 25 at 10:00 a.m. For more information about this free workshop, click here.
- Canadian Mental Health Association. #GetReal. Info and articles
- Harvard Health Publishing. The healing power of art. (2017).
- Canadian Research Institute on Humanitarian Crises and Aid. L’art au secours de la santé mentale. (November 4, 2020). École des sciences de la gestion.
- Mélissa Généreux, Mathieu Roy, Claudia Paré, Julie Lévesque. (2020). Renforcer les capacités d’adaptation des individus et des communautés en contexte de pandémie : le rôle clé du sentiment de cohérence. International Union for Health Promotion and Education and the Réseau francophone international pour la promotion de la santé. Page 15.